Spice-braised Chicken

This recipe results in a chicken with a spicier, less neutral-flavored chicken than the Simmered Chicken, but after you serve it on its own, you can still use the leftovers in a variety of ways: cold as an appetizer, sliced over noodles, mixed into fried rice. The addition of Sichuan peppercorns gives it a truly authentic flavor, but if you can’t find them in an Asian grocery or in the Asian section of a conventional store, you can substitute some other peppercorns – black, green, red, pink, or a mix.

ingredients:

  • a 3-4 pound chicken, cut up (try to buy local, sustainably raised birds – your mouth, your body, your environment, and your local food economy will thank you!)
  • 3 slices fresh ginger root
  • 2 scallions, cut into 2″ sections
  • 2 star anise (available in the spice section of most stores, but much cheaper in Asian markets)
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1 T Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1/4 c dark soy sauce
  • 1/4 c cooking wine
  • 1/4 c sesame oil

method:

  1. Rinse and pat the chicken dry. Place in a heavy-bottom pot with the remaining ingredients. Add enough water to cover up to 1/2 of the chicken.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook just until cooked through, approximately 40 m, turning at least once to ensure an even color.
  3. Remove the chicken to a cutting board. You can serve the pieces whole, cut the meat off the bone, or serve Chinese style: using a heavy cleaver or very sturdy chef’s knife, cut the chicken into “chopstickable” pieces, bones and all.
  4. While you cut the chicken, bring the sauce to a rolling boil and reduce slightly.
  5. Place the chicken on a plate, pour a little sauce over it, and serve hot.
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Pig trotters simmered in black vinegar

One of the major advantages of buying meat from a local farmer is that you usually get to choose the cuts and packaging you want: so many chops, cut so thick, so many to a package. Another advantage (?!?) is that you get cuts you would perhaps never buy in the grocery store. Take pig trotters (feet), for example. I know they’re a staple of southern cooking in America, but I’ve only ever eaten them in China. In many conventional stores in America, you won’t even see such “unmentionables” – but if you ask, they might have some in the back!

After looking at a number of recipes, I decided to take a crack at the trotters in my freezer and discovered that they can be very easy to prepare and extremely tasty. In traditional Chinese food lore, pig trotters are served to women who have just given birth, and the dish also contains hard boiled eggs – the food is meant to help the woman recover from childbirth and increase her strength. I’ve left the eggs out, but you can simply shell some hard-boiled eggs and add them to the liquid when you reheat the dish. I’ve also eliminated browning the trotters before simmering – a messy step that ultimately doesn’t seem to make a huge difference in the end result.

The meat is fatty, but no more so that pork ribs would be, so the long, slow simmer is great for eliminating a lot of the fat – if you make this dish ahead and refrigerate it, you can simply lift the fat off the top on the second day. Not the world’s healthiest dish, but if your approach is to eat everything in moderation, it’s fine – serve with brown rice and a lot of healthy vegetable dishes!

ingredients:

  • 2 lbs pig trotters, cut in 1/2 lengthwise (having them further cut into crosswise chunks is also an option)
  • 1 T cooking oil
  • 2 oz fresh ginger root, cut into thick slices
  • 1 c Chinese black vinegar
  • 1/4 c rice wine vinegar
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1 T dark soy sauce

method:

  1. Place the meat in a pot large enough to hold them in one layer, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cook 1 m, then drain off the water. At this point you may need to use a paring knife and/or tweezers to remove any remaining bristles. (This is the point at which my daughter said, “Ugh!” and left the room.
  2. Heat the oil in the same pot over medium high heat, just until it shimmers, then quickly explode the ginger until fragrant.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil, allowing the sugar to dissolve completely.
  4. Add the trotters back to the pot and add enough water to cover them.
  5. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the meat is falling off the bone, approximately 1.5 – 2 h, less if the trotters have been cross-cut as well as sliced lengthwise.
  6. Bring to room temperature in an ice bath in the sink, then refrigerate overnight – this step is optional, but it enhances the flavor and allows you to easily skim the fat off the top.

do ahead:

This dish is best made ahead – a minimum of 12 h, or up to 3 days ahead is fine. Reheat the meat gently in the liquid, then serve.

variations:

  • If you prefer a more syrupy sauce, remove the meat from the liquid after reheating, then boil the liquid over medium high heat until it becomes syrupy. Pour over the meat and serve.
  • This same preparation could be used for pork ribs, cut into sections containing 3-4 ribs.

Simmered Duck

It’s been a long time since I’ve cooked a duck, but inspired by the recent acquisition of a pastured one from our lovely local farmers at Back Forty Acres, we’re back on track. The beauty of a pastured bird is that it is much leaner than the conventionally farmed version, and the flavor – well, there’s just no comparison!

One of our favorite duck preparations is a dish in which the duck is simmered whole in a spiced liquid, then served warm, at room temperature, or chilled. In China, it would usually be chopped, bones and all, into bite-size pieces with a huge cleaver: you eat the pieces, spitting out the bones as you go. If that is unappealing or you don’t own a cleaver (or your kids refuse to eat it that way!) you can carve it much as you would a roast chicken or turkey, slicing the breast, removing the wings, and leaving the drumsticks and thighs intact or cutting the meat off the bone.

Eileen Yin-fei Lo has a detailed description of how the spiced liquid was made (and kept for years) in her grandmother’s kitchen, but it is possible to simplify the process and make the liquid for a single use if you don’t have the time or energy to keep it safe for that long! We also prefer a “white-simmered” version (which doesn’t contain soy sauce) to her “red-simmered” one.

Whole star anise and anise seed are generally available in the spice section of most grocery stores.

ingredients:

  • 1 duck, 4-6 lb
  • 2 T Chinese cooking wine or sherry
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 stalks scallion, cut into 1″ sections
  • 3 slices fresh ginger root
  • 3 pieces star anise or 1 tsp anise seed
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 1/2 tsp Sichuan or other peppercorns – the black/white/green/red mix is nice here
  • zest from 1/2 an orange
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp whole cloves

method:

  1. Rinse the duck with cool water, then pat dry. Rub it inside and out with the cooking wine, then with the salt, and let it stand 1 h in the refrigerator.
  2. Place the scallions and ginger inside the duck cavity, then put the duck in a large pot.
  3. Add  the remaining ingredients and enough water to cover the duck.
  4. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, immediately reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer for 1.5 – 2 h.
  5. Let the duck cool in the sauce just until it’s cool enough to handle, then cut it into bite-size pieces with a cleaver or carve it as you wish. It can be served as is, or with a garnish of fresh scallions.

variations:

  • The cooking liquid can be reduced over medium high heat until it’s a sauce consistency, then drizzled over the duck meat.
  • If you prefer the duck at room temperature, remove the bird from the liquid and let it cool up to 30 m before slicing.

do ahead:

  • Cool the duck in the liquid in an ice-water bath in the sink, then refrigerate it in the liquid if you prefer to serve it chilled.
  • The duck can be prepared up to 2 days in advance and chilled in this fashion. You can either serve it cold or remove it from the liquid and let it come to room temperature (about 30 m) before serving.

Braised Winter Vegetables

Although the original recipe calls for potatoes, carrots, and Chinese cabbage, a variety of vegetables would work well in this dish. The finished dish has a sort of sweet and sour flavor – you can play with the amount of sugar and the amount and type of vinegar to get the flavor you like best. Black vinegar will affect the color but has a stronger, almost smoky flavor. Rice vinegar will make it milder and will not change the color of the dish. Use a waxy variety of potato rather than a starchy baking potato – we like Yukon Golds for this.

ingredients:

  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1 T vinegar, either rice wine or black
  • 1 T raw cane sugar, or to taste
  • 1 c water, stock or broth
  • 1/4 lb carrots, peeled and cut into approximately 1/2 x 1/2 x 2″ lengths
  • 1/4 lb stem ends of bok choy or the core of a napa cabbage, cut into 1/2 x 2″ lengths
  • 1/2 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into approximately 1/2 x 1/2 x 2″ lengths
  • 2 T oil
  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 slice fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil, or to taste

method:

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil, blanch the carrots; then blanch and shock the cabbage separately and set them aside.
  2. While the water boils for the carrots and cabbage, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and water in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Heat the wok over medium high, add 1 T oil just until it shimmers.
  4. Add the potatoes and stirfry just until lightly browned in places, then remove from the wok and set them aside.
  5. Add 1 T oil to the wok and again heat just until it shimmers – it’s fine if there are bits of potato stuck to the wok.
  6. Explode the scallion, garlic and ginger just until fragrant.
  7. Add the vinegar mixture, bring to a boil, then add the vegetables to the wok. When the liquid returns to a simmer, keep the heat low and braise just until the vegetables are the doneness you prefer.
  8. Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt, vinegar, and sugar, then drizzle with sesame oil before serving.

Braised Cabbage

Well, the pickings are pretty slim for Chinese vegetables in Michigan in the winter – so bad that every time we cook Chinese food, my daughter groans, “bok choy agaaaaaaaain?!?” I do miss the Asian vendors at the Torrance Farmers’ Market, but we’re making do with napa and bok choy, which seem to be the only Asian produce most non-Asian stores here stock.

This recipe can be made with either napa or bok choy, although I prefer the crinkly napa for this one – it makes for an almost soup-like, warming winter dish. Want it heartier? Use a homemade chicken stock or broth. Want it vegan? Use water or vegetable stock – you may want to adjust the seasoning a bit in that case. Romaine or even iceberg lettuce is also a good vegetable to use for this dish!

ingredients:

  • 1 lb napa cabbage
  • 1 T oil
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1 tsp fermented black beans, optional
  • 2 c broth, water, or stock

method:

  1. Break the cabbage leaves apart and soak in cool water – rinse and repeat if it’s particularly sandy.
  2. Heat the oil in the wok until it shimmers, then explode the scallions just until fragrant – don’t brown them!
  3. Add the cabbage leaves just until coated with oil and barely wilted.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients, cover lightly and simmer just until the cabbbage is tender. If you cover too tightly or cook it too long, the color will be very drab. Adjust the seasoning and serve.

3 Cups Scallops

The “3 cups” style of cooking originally refers to a recips for cooking an entire chicken using 1 cup each of soy sauce, sesame oil, and wine. Obviously for lesser amounts of food, the amount of ingredients has also been reduced, but for most recipes of this style, the proportion remains the same 1:1:1. Often these dishes are served in a very hot cast iron pot or bowl.

For the basil, you can use thai basil, the more common Italian variety, or play with the kinds you can find fresh at the market, or you can substitute cilantro. Scallops seem to be one of the few seafood types for which the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program recommends buying the farmed variety. They are best fresh, but frozen will work as well – just be sure to thaw them slowly in the refrigerator, not in water.

ingredients:

  • 1 lb bay scallops
  • 3 T sesame oil
  • 2 small red chilies (optional), cut diagonally into elongated rounds
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 slice ginger, cut into thin strips
  • 3 T light soy sauce
  • 3 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 2 scallions, roll cut into 1″ lengths
  • salt, to taste
  • 3 sprigs basil

method:

  1. Gently remove the small muscle that is sometimes found attached to the side of the scallop – these can get extremely tough when cooked, but they make a great ingredient for fish stock or broth.
  2. Heat a wok over medium high heat, then add the sesame oil just until it shimmers.
  3. Explode the chilies, garlic and ginger just until fragrant, then add the soy sauce, cooking wine, and scallions. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.
  4. Add the scallops, cooking just until they become opaque all the way through – this may take as little as a minute.
  5. Adjust the seasoning, garnish with the basil, and serve.

variation:

You can substitute just about any type of seafood for the scallops – squid, shrimp, and fish slices all work well.

Braised Mushrooms

This is originally a Japanese recipe – I’ve replaced the mirin and sake with Shaoxing cooking wine and reduced the amount of sugar. Like all braises, this one starts with a quick saute/stirfry, then adds liquid to simmer. Unlike many Chinese braises, however, it takes a while. The mushrooms can be served hot, warm, or at room temperature and add a meaty texture and flavor to a vegetarian meal. It’s a simple side dish that can cook while you prepare other items on the menu.

ingredients:

  • 12-15 fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1 T sugar, brown or raw cane is best
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1/2 c water for fresh mushrooms or 1 c mushroom soaking liquid for dried

method:

  1. For fresh mushrooms, remove the stems, reserving for making broth. For dried, rehydrate for 10 m in 1.5 c hot water, reserve the water, then remove the stems, reserving for making broth.
  2. Combine the sesame oil, sugar, cooking wine, and soy sauce in a bowl. When mushrooms are done soaking, add the liquid to the bowl, being careful not to let any of the grit on the bottom slip in.
  3. Heat a wok or saucepan over medium high heat, then add the sesame oil just until it shimmers.
  4. Add the mushroom caps and stirfry for 30 seconds before adding the remaining ingredients.
  5. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, then cover loosely and allow to simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed. The remaining liquid will form a sort of glaze.
  6. Remove mushroom caps to a shallow bowl, then pour the glaze on top and serve.